Wealthy with knowledge, “The Prince of the Mafia” was a hit Friday night, Nov. 9, as students discovered that a life in organized crime isn’t as glamorous as the media often portrays.
Franzese, No. 18 on Fortune Magazine’s 50 most wealthy and powerful mob bosses list, spoke out about his life’s journey from being a target in organized crime to his life after he broke his omertá, the vow he took when being sworn into the Colombo Family.
“I was the real deal,” Franzese said. “I was a sworn-in member of the Colombo Family.”
Touring the country with one goal in mind, Franzese believes in order to take the first step to redemption he must share his life experiences with students before they end up behind bars. With his bodyguard Rob Michaels by his side, Franzese explained the downfall of committing to a life of crime, gambling and the Mafia.
“He may be the most unique person you’ve ever had on campus,” Michaels said.
When he first decided to enter the organized crime business, Franzese dropped out of college with the desire to help his father make ends meet. As the son of a kingpin in New York’s Colombo crime family, Franzese was long considered an heir apparent to the family’s vast power, according to his Web site, michaelfranzese.com.
“My dad was like the John Gotti of his day,” Franzese said.
Growing up in the Mafia environment, nothing came as a shock to Franzese, especially when he decided to hit the streets as a sworn-in mobster. Following in the footsteps of his father, Franzese earned a fortune by committing illegal acts with his Mafia crime family.
“At the time he was making 6 to 8 million dollars a week,” Michaels said. “He was 34.”
Money isn’t as glamorous, however, when the police are involved. Under the watch of authority figures 24/7, Franzese, as a young boy, saw the police as an enemy.
“I grew up hating the police,” Franzese said. “My perception was they were always trying to harass my family.”
Today, Franzese has a newfound respect for the law after serving eight years in federal prison.
“You cannot commit a crime in this country and get away with it,” Franzese said. “You have to respect the law.”
R.J. Laird, senior criminology and justice studies major currently taking time off from college to attend the police academy in Mercer County, said by attending the lecture, he believes he has gained some insight into the mind of a leader of organized crime.
“If for some reason I had to deal with Mob members, I would now know where they’re coming from,” Laird said.
Life isn’t easy for Franzese. With a second chance to change his ways, Franzese believes he is extremely fortunate and blessed to be where he is today. Being alive is an achievement for someone in the Mafia.
“The night I took the oath there were six of us,” Franzese said, “and I’m the only one alive today.”
Franzese’s life would not be the same today without his experience in the Mafia. He does not live a life of fear today, but 17 and a half years in the Mafia can impact a person immensely.
“I carry a lot of baggage,” Franzese said. “My former life is not something angels write about.”